The problem of stubble burning by farmers—believed to have been the cause of the recent smog in Delhi NCR—in Haryana and Punjab is likely to reduce from next year as the governments in both the states are taking coordinated technology-enabled steps to tackle the menace.

The Punjab and Haryana governments have already rolled out subsidies for farmers for using machinery to dispose of the crop residue left after their paddy harvesting. Along with this, both the governments are focusing heavily on infrastructure development in terms of farm mechanisation and facilitation systems for farmers. Farmers are also being educated to adopt environmental-friendly methods for disposing of crop residues.

Manmohan Kalia, Joint Director, Department of Agriculture, Punjab, told The Sunday Guardian, “There are about 10.5 lakh farmers in Punjab and we are trying to educate them through our block and district level agricultural departments. We have also started giving out subsidies to farmers to buy machines that can help them dispose of their crop residues. We are also in talks with various stakeholders for collection of the straws which may have economical value by way of production of biomass fuel or other materials like paper and cardboard. Through these efforts, we are sure that from next year, there will be much less of such activities. Even this year, crop burning has reduced by over 30%.”

Kalia added: “The government is also developing applications to educate farmers. We would also like the Central government to help us with funds since the state cannot bear the expenses alone.”

New machinery can help end crop burning as a method of disposing of crop residues. According to experts, the most economical and farmer-friendly among such machinery are the combine harvesters, along with the straw chopper and happy seeders. The multiple functions of the machines include harvesting the crop, chopping the crop residue while evenly placing the chopped straw over the field as a protective sheet. After this, the field is sown with the help of the happy seeder attached with the tractor. The happy seeder goes at least two to three inches below the ground, placing the seed safely into the soil.

For crop residue management, combine harvesters with high horse power are required, but in Punjab, the machines are of 100 horse power or lower engines. “Farmers are not cutting straw at the base level because it costs more,” Kalia said.

Though these machines are expensive, they are being promoted in some states like Punjab through custom hiring under a Central scheme supported by subsidy. According to Kalia, the Punjab government has got happy seeders installed in over 1,000 combine harvesters across the state through subsidies.

Gabriele Lucano, New Holland Agriculture group firm CNH Industrial Country Head and Managing Director, said. “Our combine harvesters with 130 horse power engines can cut the paddy straw from the base of the plant. These machines are tried and tested in Indian fields and we already have 11 units functioning in different regions of Punjab.”

A senior official from the Agricultural Department in Haryana told this correspondent that the Haryana government is also looking at such mechanised options for doing away with crop residues. The official said that the Haryana government is proactively engaging with farmers to educate them and is committed to reducing this environmental and health hazard.

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